The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
November 15, 2020
24th Sunday after Pentecost
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Spirit of Life, You have called us away from the way of the world into the ways of Your righteousness. You call us to seek right-living so that others may live, justice so that the marginalized and the oppressed are lifted up and brought inside, mercy so that all may know Your love. You guide us into the ways of peace so that all might thrive, so that one will not overpower another, but that love will prevail. May those of us in power, may those of us with privilege look to lose so that others may gain. May those who are disenfranchised find strength in You, that their voice may be heard and that their calls for justice might be listened to and raised up. May we judge ourselves instead of others, so that we might turn our lives back to You and Your ways. In the name of Christ, our companion, our friend, our Savior, we pray. Amen.
PRELUDE Prelude on “Dix” by Carson Dixon
CALL TO WORSHIP
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!
O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For the Lord is our God,
and we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
Our sin is ever before our God. We cannot hide from our Maker. We come to the Holy One seeking forgiveness. We seek God’s wisdom and grace in order to better reflect the love and way of our Savior.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
God you are merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Yet we test the limits of your grace, constantly turning away from you and toward that which is evil in your sight. We do not understand our own actions, why we know what is right but do what is wrong despite your clear commandments. In a world awash in hate and fear, we are to be those who love others and trust you. Forgive us when instead we resemble the worst rhetoric of our culture rather than the compassion of our Lord. We place ourselves before you, asking again for your transformative grace, honest in our confession because we know you will not abandon us. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Our God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
God hears our confession and responds with forgiveness and mercy.
Friends, believe the good news and be at peace, through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen, amen.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM Brother James’ Air
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Loving God, our minds race with busyness and worry, consumed by the headlines, anxious about the future. Send your Spirit to remind us of all Jesus taught. Open our ears to hear the wisdom of your word. Quiet in us any voice but yours that we might receive Christ’s peace that passes understanding. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 25:14-30
14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Most of you know that I was a Boy Scout. And many of you know that I’m an Eagle Scout. What you may not know is that I really liked the whole system of checking off requirements to advance to the next rank—from Tenderfoot to Second Class to First Class to Star to Life to Eagle. I also liked the whole aspect of earning merit badges. When you completed all the assignments, you finished the badge. And at the next Court of Honor, you got that badge and you got to wear it on your sash. It was a very satisfying thing to have a merit badge sash full of badges. When I first started out, I had three —basketry, first aid, and scholarship. I took those my first year at Summer Camp in 1981. Having a sash with only 3 merit badges made you feel kind of “naked.” So, there was a subtle motivation to fill that sash up! When I finished in 1986, I had 22 merit badges.
I always liked that system—you check off requirements, and you get a reward. It seems to me that a lot of people look at the parable of the talents in our Gospel lesson for today and think that the “Kingdom of Heaven” operates like that. Now, I realize that among the parables of the kingdom in Matthew’s Gospel, this one may be the hardest to see as ironical—it is in fact talking about the opposite of what the kingdom is like. Most of us have heard the “sanitized” version of the parable—the “talents” are abilities that you’ve been given to invest on behalf of the kingdom, and if you don’t use them you lose them. But I don’t think that’s what this parable is about at all. Not at all!
In the first place, a “talent” in that day and time was an incredible fortune—the equivalent of ten to twenty years’ wages. Pastor Alan Brehm says this story should be called “The Parable of the Fortune Funds.” That puts this parable in a completely different realm of life—that of profits and margins and commissions! But more importantly, if you pay close attention to the details, this parable is about earning rewards. You get five fortune funds, you earn five more, and you get to keep all ten as a reward. You get two fortunes, you earn two more, and you get to keep all four. It’s very structured, very predictable. The rewards match the deeds; the merits match the achievements. But the downside applies to any “under-achievers.” If you’re like the servant who got one fortune and did nothing with it for fear of losing a great deal of money, then you don’t even get to keep that. And because you didn’t live up to the requirements, you get thrown out and punished
If that’s really what the “Kingdom of Heaven” is like, God looks more like a ruthless Wall Street tycoon than a loving creator and redeemer. In that version of the kingdom, “to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Matt. 25:29). Make no mistake, if the parable of the talents is not ironical, then the “kingdom of heaven” is about a strict system of earning rewards, and there’s not much room for grace or forgiveness or mercy.
I don’t know about you, but to me that doesn’t sound much like the God who blesses the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. It doesn’t sound much like the God who freely gives the blessings of sun and rain to all alike. It doesn’t sound much like the God who feeds and clothes those who have little faith, or the God who gives good things to those who ask like any parent does with a child. It doesn’t sound very much like the God who cares so much about each one of us as to keep track of the very hairs of our head! And it doesn’t sound like the God who seeks us out like a shepherd seeking one lost sheep because it is not God’s will that “one of these little ones should be lost.”
Nor does the idea of a kingdom that operates based on merit and rewards sound much like the strange kingdom Jesus talks about. In this strange kingdom, there is nothing to earn—no merits or rewards to rack up. And everybody gets the same gift—God’s full and free acceptance. In this strange kingdom, the religious “under-achievers” gain entry ahead of those who think they’ve racked up more spiritual points. In this strange kingdom, God doesn’t throw people into “outer darkness,” because the only judgment is based on God’s mercy that forgives all sin and creates the possibility of new life for everyone. It is a strange kingdom indeed—one that works completely contrary to the way things work in our world.
In our world—sometimes—when you fulfill the requirements you get the reward. When you do what is expected—sometimes—you get the “merit badge”—whatever form your “merit badge” might take. And when you collect enough badges you get to move up to the next rung of the ladder. And you keep climbing, because if you slack off, you might get bumped all the way off the ladder!
But that’s precisely the problem with that kind of system. It works for those who make it to the top; but for everyone else, it means only rejection and humiliation; “the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud”. More importantly, if whether we “make it” or not in a spiritual sense is determined by a strict system of merit and reward, then the plain truth is that we’re all under-achievers. On our own, none of us can ever earn enough merit badges. But I think that’s Jesus’ point—the “Kingdom of Heaven” works completely differently from “The Parable of the Fortune Funds.” In this strange kingdom, there are no badges and no rewards, because everything is a gift. In the “Kingdom of Heaven,” everything depends on God’s love, which never fails,
and God’s grace, which always seeks us out,
and God’s mercy, which embraces us all completely.
Thank Be To God!!!
Commentary provided by Alan Brehm, Greg Carey, David Schnasa Jacobsen, Karoline Lewis, Greg Carey, Susan Hylen, Scott Hoezee, Karoline Lewis, Lance Pape, Jill Duffield, Sarah A. Johnson, & David Lose.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (The Apostle’ Creed)
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PRAYER’S OF THE PEOPLE
Gracious God, we come to you in prayer knowing that our voices are accompanied by the communion of the saints and the Holy Spirit. When we struggle to find the words or cannot articulate our longings, hopes and fears, we trust that you know our needs even when we are unable to speak them aloud. We rest in your presence, trusting your compassion, rejoicing in your covenant love that refuses to let us go.
We pray that the church would be a near reflection of its head, Jesus Christ. When the world roils in violence make of us peacemakers. When the oppressed cry out for help send us to bring good news in the form of justice and relief. When your children are hungry help us to feed your sheep. May our unity in Christ be leaven for reconciliation and healing in our communities.
We pray for our nation. In the wake of a divisive election we recognize
the tears in the fabric of our communal life. We do not have the power to overcome animosity and rancor on our own. We need your intervention and transformation. Grant those in positions of earthly power humility and wisdom, spiritual maturity and a willingness to listen. May each of us be catalysts for good wherever we have influence.
We pray for the welfare of the world. We do not want to neglect any corner of creation because all the earth belongs to you, Lord God, and you named every inch of it good. As we live and move and have our being in you, reveal to us how to tend and nurture all you have entrusted to us. Knowing that you make us stewards of that which does not belong to us, we ask for the courage to use all we have for your sake and in your service.
We pray for those who suffer in body, mind or spirit. There are those known to us who we name now (moment of silence). There are those known only to you who we remember in silence (moment of silence). Bring healing, wholeness, relief and peace to those most in need of your presence and love.
We pray for ourselves, that we would better love you and neighbor with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who taught us to say when we pray, Our Father …
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God entrusts us with talents, not to hide or to hoard, but to share and use in service to Jesus Christ. Knowing that all we have comes from God, we return to God a portion of what has been entrusted to us. Let us worship as we give.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures high and low. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Almighty God, we know that our talents are really not ours, but yours. You give us resources, gifts, skills and talents to use in your service. We want to be faithful stewards, wise but not cautious, generous and joyous in our giving. Accept, we pray, this offering, as a sign of our desire to be trustworthy servants of our servant Lord, Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
We will clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.
Bear with one another
if anyone has a complaint against we, we will forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven us, so we also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and remain with you always.